Building Bridges (abridged)

Department: 
Building Bridges: a keynote talk by Kenya Casanova-Sales to North Pacific Yearly Meeting, July 23, 2020

[The following text was excerpted from Kenya Casanova-Sales’s complete keynote talk, which is published at: https://westernfriend.org/media/building-bridges]

The word “pontifex” is a title given to the Pope, the maximum authority of the Catholic Church. This word means builder of bridges. As Quakers we believe in the universal priesthood, which is to say that potentially, all of us can be divine ministers. So, I think that we all are called to be pontifex, that is to say, bridge-builders.

In this world there are people damaged, hurt, affected in many senses. With the current situation caused by the coronavirus, it is like a terror wave. Also, here in Cuba we have had other problems, such as a lot of shortages of resources and food. In other countries of Latin America, it has been much worse because of the lack of medical services. People of many countries suffer more than ever today. There are long lines, in some places people fight, they argue to obtain some food or material good, they injure and harm each other. The violence, and racial hate has increased. When we go out, we see that people are more aggressive. Many feel fragile, deprived of resources, vulnerable, needy.

Jesus understands the physical pain, the loneliness, the scorn, the hate, the injustice that people feel, because he had to suffer it himself. With empathy and understanding he leans toward us (we receive his grace). He takes care of the crops. Isaiah 42:3 says “a bruised reed (one of the crops) the Holy One shall not break, and the burning wick he will not snuff; he shall bring forth justice faithful to the truth.” He protects the damaged people. He won’t snuff out our faith, even it seems hardly a smoldering flame. He promised us that he will bring justice. 

In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9, we can read about Saul’s experience with the Lord.  After his Epiphany of the Lord, he was sightless for three days, but Jesus gave him instructions on what he should do and where he should go. Starting from verse 10, it speaks about a disciple named Ananias, whom the Lord called. He responded “Here I am.” Instructions were given to him so that he expected Saul of Tarsus and he prayed for him so that his sight was returned.  Ananias was fearful at the beginning because he knew that Saul had persecuted the Christians. But the Lord explained to him that Saul would be his instrument to carry his news to many places; then Ananias understood, and he did what the Spirit guided him to do.

Ananias collaborated with God as an agent of unity, he served as a bridge so that Saul came to an understanding of God, which he needed. When Ananias went to meet Saul, he called him, “brother Saul,” and treated him with a lot of love. This Saul had had an extraordinary experience with God, and he was welcomed by those whom he had persecuted before. Then Saul, from that point on with the nickname of Paul, was one of those that carried the good news to many countries and he helped to reconcile the Jews that were Christian with the people that came from other religions and countries, converted to Christianity. So, Paul was also a builder of bridges.

What can we do today to build bridges? How to be bridges to collaborate with God in reconciling, bringing people close, and uniting people?  

We cannot give formulas; each person is a world. The Spirit speaks to each one of us.

The fruits that we have received from the Spirit: the love, the joy . . . (Galatians 5) are given to us to share with other people. One of those fruits is self-control. When people are in situations of crisis, it is very difficult to control our emotions, and then sometimes we let the anger and the aggression dominate us. We shouldn’t allow our emotions to dominate us, especially when they can affect other people. Those situations that are thieves of joy and of peace, and we shouldn’t allow them to act on us. Let´s be faithful and in communion with God. This is a way that we can make ourselves into bridges. When we are full of love, joy, peace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, faith, meekness, and all those fruits, then we can be channels of God; only then can we serve as his instruments so that others can come closer to him, to reconcile, to unite, to inspire. 

If we want to be bridges, we should think how we can do it in small things, simple things, day by day activities. If we look around us, we may see that there are people with spiritual needs, people with family relationships broken or with friendships ruined. With respect and tenderness, we can be bridges for those that need mediation, love, reconciliation and also for those that have broken their relationship with God; those that have not recognized that there is “that of God in them.” With our lives, with our testimonies, we can be the connection that may show them the way to the Truth.

If we show with our lives that God’s Love is real, if we live so that those that surround us see that the mercy of God is forever and it is present in us, we become bridges. 

We know that perfection is an attribute of God alone, but we can try to be better. This is like climbing steps, because the Spirit gives us a new measure of perfection every day. (Paul said in Philippians 3:12: “I don’t say that I have reached it, neither that I am perfect, but I continue ahead with the hope of reaching it, since Christ Jesus reached me first.”)

We can be bridges showing people that we can break the chains of hate, and violence, of injustice and indifference, caused by racism or discrimination. We all are children of God. Equality is one of the Quakers’ testimonies, and we must try to make it real in our lives. 

We have seen many violent acts recently in many countries. It is really painful. We feel the suffering of the victims; we are in solidarity with them, but we also pray for the aggressors so that they can be released from that way of thinking and acting.

When we don’t return evil for evil, the chain of hate breaks. Almost 2000 years ago, Jesus died on a cross, a cruel and unjust death. He could use his power to destroy his enemies, but he chose the power of love that put an end to the hate and the terror. His petition to the Father for forgiveness for those that mistreated him was also a cry of hope that puts an end to the chain of hate that generate acts of violence. Jesus said to his disciples “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. . .” That peace that passes all understanding is the one that he invites us to experience today, in the middle of the most difficult circumstances, and the storms of the life.

In the monthly meeting I am part of, we think that the Kingdom of God is here and now and that it is a Kingdom of Peace and Justice. Also, that we are sent to build that kingdom with the Holy One, as coworkers. We are God’s hands and God’s feet.

Here is a beautiful hymn that Cuban Friends sing:

Enviado soy de Dios, mis manos listas están
          a construir con él un mundo fraternal.

Los ángeles no son enviados
          a cambiar un mundo de dolor
          por un mundo de paz.

Nos ha tocado hoy, hacerlo realidad;
          ayúdame Señor a hacer tu voluntad.

I have been sent by God; my hands are ready
          to build with the Spirit a world of love.

It´s not the angels who’ve been sent
          to replace this world of pain
          with a world of peace.

Today, it´s up to us.  We must make it reality;
          Lord, help me do your will.

I invite you today to be part of this team of bridge-builders, of co-workers in the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit allows our hearts to be moved by love, peace, and desire for justice. May our wishes be to act as Ananias did, who collaborated as a bridge between Saul and God. And also, may we want to act as Paul, who helped to reconcile brothers and sisters with different points of view.  May we want to be like the carpenter of the story, always ready to build a bridge of understanding wherever we go. May we always be full with the fruits of the Spirit, so that we can be channels and instruments that collaborate to help   communicate, unite and reconcile. May the Lord help us today to build bridges of Love, Peace, Faith and Hope.  ~~~

Kenya Casanova-Sales lives in Puerto Padre, Las Tunas, Cuba, and works as a dentist in the national health care system there. She has served on the Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas.

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